Rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.
– Muhammad Ali
Like the natural ebb and flow of water, there is no rigid outline, or one straight path for how to go about traveling — we just set off, stumble about, awkwardly finding our way with eyes wide opened at newly shifting surroundings, seeing life from a fresh perspective.
I’ve witnessed a fair bit over the past few years of being out in the world, but nothing has had a greater impact on me than my first trip to India. There is so much to re-count from that experience, and yet most of it I could never adequately convey through spoken or written language; the memories lie silently in my heart, surfacing whenever they so choose.
In between meeting amazing people, eating delicious, drool-worthy food, and boarding myriad buses and trains to get from point A to B, one place stands out amid all the cacophonous chaos that India lives and breathes: The Golden Temple is a gentle, safe haven where the caste system has no grounds, and volunteers facilitate almost everything. It was in this special space were I spent my birthday that year, celebrating with new friends I’d met that morning, and wandering around the packed, yet serene environment, soaking up the soft, Sikh energy in inspired awe.
While water is notably used in a multitude of seminal structures throughout history, The Golden Temple — formerly known as Harmandir Sahib — stands out for several reasons: not least is the soulful intention behind the Sikh religion itself, which openly welcomes everyone. The grand space radiates a warm sentimentality throughout its expansive layout and thoughtful architecture. As a self-proclaimed spiritual agnostic-atheist, I relish learning about world religions — this is not only a fascinating subject to study, but one critical to developing our understanding of human beings in general.
Built as a place of worship for Sikhism, The Golden Temple is open to everyone, no matter one’s race or class. This is indicative of the openhearted nature of the Sikh religion itself:
“The Harmandir Sahib has gates on all the four sides; representing open entry to all. Thus He [Guru] made it accessible to every person without any distinction of case, creed, sex, and religion.”
Known for being helpful, welcoming, and accepting, Sikhs make up a large part of the Indian state of Punjab, though the religion is also practiced globally.
While Hindu temples are traditionally built above ground, The Golden Temple is built “on a lower level than its surrounding ground so that the visitors would have to go down the steps in order to pay homage to the holy shrine.” Once we have entered the temple, everyone is treated equally within this sacred space. In India, where the strict class system dictates almost everything in one’s life, this is remarkable and freeing. The temple’s open energy draws more tourists than even the opulent Taj Mahal.
Walk along the water’s edge, absorbing the enchanting atmosphere; eat a free, vegetarian Indian meal with other visitors in the large, communal kitchen, otherwise known as the langar; or sleep overnight to catch the early sunrise over the glittering water: time spent here reminds us of the power of sharing with our fellow people.
At the core, in spite of any superficial difference, we all share the common understanding of what it means to be human — our needs for food, water, shelter, love, and respect are universal. This video, while a tad dry, gives a detailed peek into the inner workings The Golden Temple’s famous, free kitchen. It notes that 90% of the workers at The Golden Temple are volunteers, exemplifying the giving nature that the place, and Sikhism in general, inspires.
These free activities serve to reinforce the openheartedness with which the Sikh religion operates: everyone and anyone are welcome – whether to be fed, housed, or simply cared for. Likewise, it shows that when we listen to our hearts, acting from intention, as opposed to being driven by money, great things can manifest.
The temple’s incredible, unique energy is partly based in the positive vibrations of the volunteers — people who are putting forth effort simply because they genuinely want to. I feel there is a lot we can learn from the philosophies that support the open-minded tenets of Sikhism. Volunteering can be a life-changing experience, and it’s something we can do no matter where we are, or what skills we have to offer — we really do get what we give in life.
Equally inspiring is the relationship between water’s inherent magical properties as life-source (communication, energy, flow, movement) and the complementary values of Sikhism. Merging water’s natural qualities with positive, human intent creates space for magnetic energy to breathe.
What I take away from my experience in this surreal, extraordinary space is the importance of feeling connected with our fellow human beings, regardless of differences, and the connection between our natural world — especially water, as our fundamental life-source — and our personal values. It is here where the potential exists for creating something greater than ourselves. This is, in part, what makes water-therapy so potent: immersing our bodies in water with authentic intentions of being present in ourselves, and thus in the world, can be electrifying.
However we choose to explore our being-ness here on Earth — whether through travel, or family, or work, or otherwise — nurturing the connection between our inner guide (intuition) and our natural water world will help us along this journey. Mindful drinking, swimming, or visiting a place like The Golden Temple can all serve to enhance our relationship with our life-source, and universe at large.
Have you seen any architectural structures that use water in a particularly effective way? How did you feel when experiencing them? Let us know your thoughts on the connection between water and spirituality.
I have seen many places, but none like thee.
– Guru Arjan Dev Ji